On the wayside of an outrage fiesta over Metro Manila’s teeming population of squatters, people seem to have missed a gaily colored solution piñata: public transportation.
After people have salved their poverty butthurt and middle-class angst, perhaps it would be a good idea to revisit a column in Manila Standard called “Happy Hour” where it was pointed out that poor public transportation tends to increase the demand for housing in urban areas.
The idea is simple, really.
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If we had a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system, it would be possible for people to live in rural areas and then commute to work in Metro Manila. Here’s an excerpt from Happy Hour’s “Babying the DoTC”:
So how is transportation related to the huge growth of informal settlers? Well, given the number of hours you spend in traffic (maybe four hours, both ways), wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense to just live in your office, store, or factory?
In fact, a lot of well researched articles on poverty and in-migration cite a proportional relationship between poor quality, high cost transportation and the increased need for urban-based housing for the poor a.k.a. potential or actual informal settlers. This was explained at Global Urban Development Magazine citing a study on Sri Lanka’s informal settlers and transportation. One of its conclusions said, “… the relationship of transport facilities, distances between work and housing and the value of land have a close relationship. The need to provide for city center housing for the poor increases with poor transport facilities. Thus land use policy should take into account the quality of transport services that are available.”
One of the solutions to a booming urban informal settler population, which also concretizes long-clamored for “decentralization” is to have a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system in place. Such a public transport system, if and when it happens, would make it more possible for poor people to live in rural areas and still work in the city.
A couple of months back, the DOTC very boldly said it will finish P500 billion worth of infra projects by the time President Noynoy Aquino finished his term in 2016 (which means by June that year). Let’s see: Airport projects in Puerto Princesa, Panglao, Mactan, Bicol and the NAIA rehab; various LRT extension projects in Cavite, in Masinag (Pasig); Cebu Bus Rapid Transit System; Davao wharf project; the MRT-3 and MRT-7 projects plus automated fare collection system for LRT and MRT; intermodal stations in the metro including the revival of a ferry system covering Laguna Lake-Pasig River-Manila Bay.
So how is the DOTC doing so far? Journalists/columnists seem to be underwhelmed, their accounts indicating that DOTC is not exactly doing much of the right thing with the list of still-to-be-awarded projects plus stories of alleged “extortion attempts” piling up the way traffic becomes kilometric along EDSA after a two-car collision!
Right now, one of the key pressures driving people with low-incomes or informal sources of income to live in slum areas is poor public transportation.
Just assume that the average cost of a two way trip with a total length of 16 kilometers (8 kilometers one way) is anything from 50 to 100 pesos and at its worst, it takes two hours to complete one trip (including waiting time at boarding stations). This means that the average Pinoy has to shell out as much as 1/3 of his daily minimum wage and lose 4 hours of his time in traffic — often arriving at his place of work too frazzled to be effective or arriving home too tired to have any meaningful interaction with their family.
In a way, perhaps, the lousy public transportation we have could be the very reason why Juan is tamad (lazy), cannot attend to his duties as a father, and takes home such a small amount of money (around 250 pesos, assuming he is getting the full minimum wage).
Of course, one option commonly taken by the minimum wage earner is to just rent a room within walking distance from his work place and where else can the minimum wage earner find cheap accommodations but in slum areas. In fact, in decades gone by, this is the reason why we had areas in Manila (places like Tondo and Sampaloc) almost completely settled in by laborers.
If only the Administration’s slogan “Tuwid na Daan” signified a strong commitment to giving the country a cheap, efficient, and reliable public transportation system, perhaps we would see a reduction in the population of Metro Manila’s squatters.
But guess what?
That’s not going to happen in a department known as “Do-Nothingness Meets Decidophobia” or the Department of Transportation and Communication, a department that was previously headed and some say is still very much under the control of my former boss, Mar Roxas.
We can trade barbs over the squatter situation, or perhaps, this early, we can tell Mr. Decidophobia that if he wants to have a good chance of winning in 2016 either as a senator again or as a Presidential candidate, he better tell his proxy at the DoTC ( Emilio Abaya) to start implementing transportation projects ASAP.